Some are calling 2012 the year without a winter, and here in Washington, D.C., it certainly has felt that way. The holidays were unseasonably warm, and there were a number of days in January when one could walk outside without a jacket. Now, with several days in the mid-80s already under our belts in mid-April, one can only guess how hot this summer might be.
But while the weather for this past winter was remarkably mild, the same cannot be said of this year's tornado season. We have already had a number of deadly and destructive tornadoes this year, and only time will tell where this season will stand in the record books. Unfortunately, sometimes it is hard to gauge just how bad the damage from any individual twister might be, and while the Enhanced Fujita scale is currently the most widely used system for determining tornado strength, some question whether a more accurate measurement system could be devised. In this issue of Weatherwise, we look at a potential new index that proposes to rate tornado strength based on the level of disruption in everyday life to an affected area. The index, devised by Mitch Stimers, aims to fill a gap in how people gain an understanding of and perceive a tornado's impact on a community.
Meanwhile, in “Social Media: A New Horizon for Forecasting,” Jesse Ferrell examines how social media are changing the way the public interacts with weather. In a world in which rapid communication is essential to staying current with events as they transpire, weather is one of the best examples of how technology can improve our lives. For weather forecasts to be useful, they must be timely, and there is no better way to transmit urgent weather news than through social media.
Weather news didn't always move so fast. In “The Discovery of Lake-Effect Snow,” Mark Monmonier explores how scientists came to understand the weather patterns that bring about the large amounts of snow to the Great Lakes region each year. Surprisingly, it took quite a while for scientists to identify both the phenomenon and the mechanism of lake-effect snow, and the story of how this came to be is a “must read” for enthusiasts of meteorology history.
Finally, we feature in this issue some spectacular weather photos from Emporia State University's Plains Photo Project. These photos capture some of the drama that weather brings to the so-called “flyover” states. I think the amateur weather photographers in our readership will enjoy the photo essay, and I hope it will serve as an appetizer for the photographs we will feature in our next missive, the 2012 Weatherwise Photo Contest issue!